The Inherent Racism of Saying "Dumb People" Listen to Beyonce

Christopher Polk—MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV by Tsebiyah Mishael Last week, the results of a ...

Christopher Polk—MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV
by Tsebiyah Mishael

Last week, the results of a “study” popped up online that concluded that “dumb people” listen to Beyoncé, and “smart people” listen to Radiohead. As a Beyoncé fan with a bachelor’s degree (that I worked my butt off and tired my brains out for), I was insulted before I even clicked on the headline. But when I did, I found it was more than insulting; it was downright racist and offensive. It is difficult not to notice that American software writer Virgil Griffith’s “super duper” scientific study—note the sarcasm—deemed music genres championed and supported by people of color and women as the music of “dumb people,” while music championed and supported by white males (Radiohead, Blink 182) was upheld as the music of the intelligent. Even jazz music got thrown under the bus, which frankly, is just laughable.

The bottom line is that study was conducted on a racist foundation. I already know what people will say in response to that accusation. In fact, in response to the twitter-rant I went on after reading the article about the study, someone accused me of making an “excuse.” An excuse! As if all black people are actually dumb, and me pointing out the huge flaws in the study and their correlation to the racist results was a pathetic attempt to compensate for the collective stupidity of my race.

What’s important to note is that study was shaky to begin with, since it did not rely on IQ scores (IQ meaning “intelligence quotient,” one of the most popular—even if still flawed—tests to determine actual intelligence). Instead, Griffith’s study relied entirely on SAT scores and Facebook likes, which in my opinion are two of the most arbitrary measurements of anything… ever. But if you don’t believe me, just ask the College Board itself.

The College Board, the private company that owns and distributes the SAT, long ago gave up trying to defend the test’s ability to actually test any kind of “aptitude,” as it used to claim to do. It also wouldn’t dare claim that the SATs test intelligence. So it’s no surprise that every year a slew of articles appear that detail the increasing difficulty colleges face when trying to determine how much weight they should place on SAT scores in the admissions process (see: The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and PBS).

Most importantly, though, the SATs are racially biased. Black students generally score lower, but don’t do worse in college, which says nothing about intelligence (or even performance in school), but says more about the test itself. The plain facts are that wealthier students (who have access to tutors, well-funded schools, and SAT prep classes) do better compared to less wealthy students. Consequently, many black students have had and continue to have a lot of difficulties navigating a test that does not resemble a high school curriculum and needs its own separate class to be understood. If the SATs tested intelligence, wouldn’t socio-economics and race be irrelevant as factors in the resulting scores?

The confusion surrounding the SATs alone makes Griffith’s study racist and biased, just like the measurement it used to arrive at its conclusions. The only thing more upsetting than the study itself is what it represents: a common tendency to measure a multi-colored world in whiteness. Luckily, I’ve seen largely negative reactions to Griffith’s study, mostly based off of his use of Facebook likes to reach such a blanket statement of a conclusion. Still, it is yet another piece that has emerged in long list of anti-black and anti-women biases. Some will wonder why we even bother giving something like this the time of day. But I’m sure that won’t stop certain readers from taking it seriously. Constantly, non-white cultures are under attack even as they are appropriated before our eyes. This “dumb people listen to Beyoncé” study is a prime example.

Griffith’s study is a huge red flag that should alert us to the ability of a flawed system to infect everything within its reach. As far as we know, the study was not intended to be about race or gender. It was a study that attempted to find the correlation between intelligence and music tastes, but because of the information it relied on to draw conclusions—which came from our flawed, unequal and biased system of education in America—it produced racist results. This should serve as yet another reminder of the potency of the system of racism: it permeates our consciousness and starkly contradicts reality.

Tsebiyah Mishael is an New York native and a writer of music, pop culture & social politics, as well as an actress and singer. You can find other articles written by her on, or check her out on Twitter and Instagram @tsmish.

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